Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gravitational Force

I want to swim back to the earth because I am not an astronaut 
and while I fight the tide
the moon says no don't, ok, yes 
the moon doesn't know about the tide it just does 
things beyond what it understands because, well it's the moon and no one blames it

If the world whispered I am not your world I would hear it but I'd still keep swimming and the moon could say “go away, I'm not your moon I'd smile and say “You are my earth's moon.”

The thing that makes me want to mush chip bags 
Is the same thing that makes us climb Everest and run marathons
Like hating your name but loving who you are. 
the only thing on our resume we have no control over is our name
And so we mush chips 

I once saw a whole forest burn. Every thing was black and grey except for the highest of trees
My dad said it was supposed to
It's part of the cycle. 
They did it on purpose to make a new forest, a healthier one
But I see the burnt stalks of pine and wonder if they know it's gonna be okay
They don't. 
They looked like soldiers limping and bloody
Some day they'll be green and lime like again the scars will build up in the shape of knots,
The knot will be filled with sap 
A tree says to his friend, “Do you remember the fire back in 98?” 
“Yeah, look at my thigh, I think about it everyday.”
“But at least we're still here.” says the first tree
The other tree just sighs.
Perhaps the rangers will start another fire soon
or maybe it'll just happen like a wild fire that sings with destruction.

I remember hearing "We all have a certain amount of gravitational force.” Not a force we can control, a force like our name. And yours is wrapping its arms around me. 
It looks me in the eyes and says, “come with me, lets go back to earth, we don't belong here.”
It wants to pull me from across the atmosphere, over mountains across the sea up through the gulf from where I sit in Florida on the balcony staring at the moon thinking I am not an astronaut

Thursday, September 22, 2011


She had a habit of taking photos of the moon even though they never came out. Even though when she took them the moon was big and close and you could see it's dimples. But in the photo it only looked like a small light in the distance. He had a habit of saying things like, "It would be easier if we broke the animal kingdom down into two groups those that eat with their mouth and those that eat with their hands." 

I remember the day I saw the brown snake lying in the grass with a toad halfway hanging out of its mouth. The snake looked uncomfortable but the toad looked pretty relaxed. It's legs are limp but once and a while it will kick and the snake will say, "Where do you think you're going?" and wiggle the toad a little farther down the snakes throat. (Do snakes have throats? Could they be just one big long throat that ends in an asshole)? And each time the toad struggles to avoid the inevitable it moves a little closer to it. And still it looks like the one who is feeling the majority of the pain here is the snake. And like a parent says to their kid just before spanking them he whispers to the toad, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." But the toad and the child think, "bullshit,  if that were true you'd have me giving you the spankings." 

Which is what I said to the cat I found dying on the side of the road when I was in high school. I saw it struggling to get off the street towards the shade of camphor tree. It's black and white fur was bloody and matted near it's head and pieces of bone were sticking out of it's left leg. It was crying when I approached. As I got closer it started to hiss at me  but shortly gave up in the idea that it could defend itself from anything. Initially I considered calling Animal Control. I assumed they'd put it to sleep immediately but I also wondered, would they show up in their truck and scamper around with a stethoscopes around their necks, quickly take the cat's vitals and wheel it on a gurney into the back of the truck. Would they nurse it back to health first? Put its broken cat bones back together, give it a bath and sew up the wounds. Then in a very systematic way schedule a date to put it to sleep.  Feed it a last meal, maybe salmon and milk, the cat would then ask to be forgiven for it's sins. "I'm sorry for eating the parakeet and blaming the dog." Then someone like Tom Hanks would walk it towards the electric chair and he'd be comforting and tell the cat it was going to a better place. And the cat would look back and smile, the kind of smile that says, "I don't really believe that but it's nice of you to say so." 
I couldn't decide which was worse so I asked the cat "Hey cat, do you want to get better before you get worse? Because you can die now or you can die later, which will it be?" The cat just lay there, it's eyes slowly blinking as if he was thinking about it. I looked around and noticed a group of cinder blocks that were used to keep a garbage can from sitting directly on the grass.  And just before I dropped the cinder block on the cat's head I whispered, "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." Afterwards it stopped breathing. I felt around on the cat to try and to check its pulse but I don't know where cat pulses are located. I put the block back under the can and put the cat inside. 

Today in the paper was a story about a woman who has her own robot. It all started when her heart fell asleep the same way your foot might after you've been sitting a while, that type of thing.  
"I can't feel anything." she explained.  
"How do you feel about that?" the doctor asked. 
"I don't know, I guess I don't mind, I don't feel anything so I don't know."
When her doctor placed the stethoscope against her chest he could hear her heart. It beat regularly.  
"It's numb and feels all pins and needles." she said as she made a worried smile.  
The doctor sighed the way doctors do when they have bad news. He told her he'd seen these kind of cases before, that the outlook was iffy. Then he wrote, clipboard in hand, a prescription for a personal robot.
"Can I name the robot?" she asked
"You can but I don't recommend it." 
"I think I'll call it Cheese."
"As long as your heart is asleep you won't be able to feel or express anything. That is why I've prescribed you the robot. The robot will objectively determine how you would be feeling. On his display board you will see an emoticon. It's very straight forward. If you are happy your robot will let you know that you are happy. If you are sad he will let you know that you are sad. Of course you won't feel any of this but at least you'll get a sense of would feel if you could feel."

"What if it's a feeling of sad-happy or happy-sad?"
"Don't worry we have an emoticon for that too."
In the article the woman explained what it's been like to take care of a robot "Rust is an issue, you must always think about rust but still I'd never go back to a life without my robot."
"What's it like not having any feeling?" asked the reporter
"It's like when it's been raining and it lightens up a bit and you go outside but it's raining so lightly you don't even feel the rain. And if someone we're to ask you "Is it still raining?" you'd answer no even though it is.
And when the reporter asked "So you're happier today than before you had this heart condition." 
The woman turned, looked at her personal robot, and the robot shuffled uncomfortably and it's display said,  : /


At least the snake memory I know is real, meaning I remember the toad twitching as well as when I got spanked for making my brother deaf that afternoon. By real I mean, not the kind of memory one thinks was real but only remembers a photo of it, not the actual event itself.  Like the memory I have of when I was around three and I'm wearing overalls (why do parents love to dress their kids in overalls when they themselves would never wear overalls?) sitting on green outdoor carpeting playing with a plastic ambulance, which is actually only a memory of the photo.

The day the snake ate the toad I was playing with my plastic stethoscope. It came with one of those doctor kits that are standard issue for all kids. The one with the knee tapping hammer and the look up your ear and nose thing. Aside from the stethoscope the rest of the kit was pretty worthless, how many times can you hit yourself with a plastic hammer until that gets old? The stethoscope was fun because it could be worn as a fashion accessory and it really worked. What I mean by saying that it worked was that if you put the part meant for listening  into your brother's ears and put the part meant to pick up the sound of a heart beating to your mouth and screamed "Can you hear my heart beat?" as loud as your eight year old voice could go then it works. You're brother may not hear your heart beat, he may not hear anything for a while after this, but it's a lot more amusing than tapping his knee with a plastic hammer. But not amusing to your mom who now has you over her knee and isn't tapping but beating you and whispering, ""This hurts me more than it hurts you."

When she said to him, "Why do you make that face when you look in the mirror?" he was embarrassed but thought it was funny because he knew exactly what she was talking about.
Still he said, "What face?"
"The one you make every time you look in the mirror, your mirror-face." she said and then made her face like his mirror-face and they both laughed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pass the MSG

As a kid I remember driving through a state park in West Florida with my father and seeing charred remains of forest. Behind the barb wire fence the earth was post-apocalyptic, mostly grey sand and ash. Small specks of green poked through the ground here and there, a stem with a leaf or two only. The pines displayed black scars along their trunks, evidence of what had happened, but their upper branches and green needles paid no attention and went on with life, for them, just another day hanging out in the woods.

"Was there a fire?" I asked my dad.

He told me it was called a controlled burn, the forest rangers start fires, they control them, when the brush and ground cover gets to thick they do it. It helps prevent wild fires that can start when lightening strikes and get out of control. It's good for the forest. Some of the trees even need it to help stimulate growth and so even though it seems like it destroys the forest it actually helps renew it. Soon everything will grow back new and green.

It seemed like a crazy idea, burning everything down to make everything better. I watched out the window as the burned area quickly transitioned to the thick unburned forest where the bright green palmettos surround the pines with their jazz-hand fronds and cover the forest floor making it nearly impenetrable except to the rodents and snakes that live beneath. The pine trunks are anorexic skinny, some trunks toppled, leaning at a thirty degree angle, supported only by the trunks of other survivors.

Two years ago when Anna and I performed a controlled burn on our lives and decided to leave the States to go sailing we sold our life on Craigslist. We thought we planned everything on the brown drawing pad Anna brought with her to the cafe where this all began with two stick figures representing us. Initially she'd written across the top "How to escape Tallahassee." After a few minutes we crossed through Tallahassee and replaced it with the USA. Buying a sailboat became the answer to the question. But when I left my job and she left her interior design business neither of us knew anything about umami or MSG. People asked us what are you going to do if you don't like it? "Do something else, we'd say." But the truth is we were George Bush in our thinking.

We did like it, for a while. We just wanted to have fun and be with each other and we did. We woke up on the ocean, speaking new languages, our life was infused with the beautiful flavors of doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. The flavor of bird peppers, mahi, the Caribbean, curry and freedom. We had nothing to do, no responsibilities, no deadlines, conference calls, meetings, appointments or obligations. We didn't know the day of the week, the time or where we were going next.

At one point, about half way through a lifestyle that makes Charlie Sheen look wholesome Anna researched some yoga courses on what she'd need to get instructor certification. It sounded like a great idea but was soon forgotten. And more recently, she walked around Cartegena, just to walk and came back with a stack of interior design catalogs. But what neither of us fully put together was that this was all about the umami and that the palmettos had gotten too thick.

I never thought about MSG until a month ago when I was at dinner in Colombia with a guy we'd just met, Max. I knew nothing about it aside from a sign in the drive-thru of a Chinese restaurant we used to go to as a kid that read "MSG"  in a circle with a do-not-enter style line through it. I just assumed "MSG" was short for messages and for whatever reason their answering machine must be full. 

We'd gone to an Australian Fusion Cafe which sounds both repetitive (isn't all Australian food aside from bush meat fusion?) and an odd choice for Cartegena but the place was air-conditioned and just a block down the street. As we looked at the menu Anna mentioned the high abundance of cilantro on the menu, a concern because for Anna cilantro tastes like soap. In the beginning of our relationship I just thought Anna was being difficult about the cilantro but after some internet research discovered that her problem with cilantro had more to do with having an enhanced sense of taste. Scientists refer to people who have a heightened sense of taste as Supertasters. Supertasters often compare the flavor of cilantro to soap.

Anna was immediately in love with the idea that she had a superpower and I enjoyed transferring the idea to her reason for being with me and our relationship. She dealt with showering in the ocean because she was a Supertaster. She didn't need air-conditioning because she was a Supertaster. Because what we were experiencing had so much more flavor than a traditional American lifestyle and Anna was special because she could taste it with an intensity greater than the average individual where all the inconveniences of sailing weren't effecting her or us. But after two years on the boat, living what most people would call a dream we both still felt something missing.

As we waited for our meal Max revealed to us his in depth knowledge of all things related to taste. He knew about the amount and location of receptors on the tongue and why Heinz ketchup tastes so much better than regular ketchup. He didn't know why he knew so much about taste but he did. Most of all I remember what he said about MSG. Apparently MSG, which stands for Monosodiumumami. Umami is the hidden taste that we all want and love which is why foods with MSG taste so great. The Japanese word umami essentially translates as "meatiness." So add a little MSG to your vegetables, cereal, chocolate cake and it'll suddenly taste meaty. Add a little MSG to anything and it will be more meaty.

Once I got back to Florida and my sister is telling me about her new job which she doesn't really like but doesn't entirely hate. Being on an expressway is a sensory explosion after being at sea for two years. The stands of pine trees  near the overpass , the buildings of downtown Orlando appear to be zooming by even though were the ones zooming as we drive east along the expressway. She tells me about the unhappy millionaires she works for while I half listen and half think what went wrong with my relationship with my fiancee. As we drive east down Colonial towards Central where all the businesses are Asian owned and the restaurants are called Phun-Ho and Lin-Hun and have neon blue and red signs that hum against the window and read "Best Vietnamese" or "Real Chinese"  or just simply "Thai Cuisine."
Eventually, Emily says something like "It just isn't very gratifying I need to do something with a purpose." and I look at her and she can tell I'm looking at her and she'll laugh and say
"What?" and start laughing harder and say
"What is it Jeff?" and laugh even harder.
And even though I'm big brother and I'm supposed to be full of all types of advice the only thing I can suggest is grabbing some take-out.